Saturday, November 7, 2009

McGraw-Hill’s Lesson in Irony

I was excited to see in a recent BusinessWeek that McGraw-Hill backs a plan for “bringing financial literacy to those who need it most.” Now that’s what I’m talking about! Teach benighted bankers a thing or two about credit. Financial literacy for those who brought us the chaos of 2008. A shout out to McGraw-Hill!

You see a lot of companies wasting charitable dollars on tedious, never-ending cancer research or putting laptops in the hands of dirt-poor Africans, and you think, “Dang, where are our priorities? Who's teaching bankers how to read a balance sheet?”

So McGraw-Hill is doing it, re-training those ignorant fellows at AIG who lost billions by insuring someone else’s company’s bonds. And taking those rating agency guys – the ones who gave A-pluses to bonds backed by piles of dead leaves – and teaching them the ABCs of folding money. Talk about people in need of “training in financial literacy.”

But wait a sec. I started reading the fine print of the BusinessWeek advertising supplement and…. hold on! Harold McGraw III – CEO of McGraw-Hill – is aiming his lectures at – get this – ordinary Americans! That’s right. He says that, “Every American’s ability to provide for our families…and contribute to the broader economy is dependent on our ability to understand how money works.” Our ability to understand?

McGraw says that of all the lessons from the current economic crisis, “none is more important” than this: “That financial literary is critical to our economic well being” and that “we are not making the grade.” That’s a key lesson?

He concludes by declaring that if we emphasize our children’s financial literacy as much as reading and writing, "we will go a long way toward helping them realize their dreams, enjoy higher standards of living and achieve a secure financial future.”

Now I was confused. I would have thought that a more secure financial future might start with teaching the staff of the SEC what P-O-N-Z-I spells. Next, we might re-train the staff of – hey, isn’t Standard & Poor’s one of The McGraw-Hill Companies? Didn't S&P experts give triple-A ratings to bonds backed only by the full faith and credit of Uncle Leo’s dog-fighting bookie? Train them, not us.

I concur that it’s a good idea to teach financial literacy "to those who need it most.” But advice to M-H: Keep the curriculum. Put AIG and S&P fannies in the seats. Then give your money to One Lap-Top Per Child.



Thomas said...

“Every American’s ability to provide for our families…and contribute to the broader economy is dependent on our ability to understand how money works.”

While I can't totally disagree with the statement above, what we ordinary American's are generally taught is to invest in our company's 401(k) plan, like what the fine financial folks at Enron did for their employees. If your company doesn't offer a 401(k) plan for its workforce, then we should consult financial experts who could better help us. A financial expert who might recommend that we invest in a Mutual Fund, like those offered through AIG, or another company with a AAA rating given by Standard & Poor's. Or perhaps if we're lucky enough and have the inside knowledge, we might even be able to invest our life savings and children s college funds with a financial genius like Bernard Madoff. After all, how could you go wrong with a former chairman of NASDAQ??

Like an Ostrich with its head in the sand, it appears that Mr. McGraw went a little further and got his head stuck somewhere else...

brandsinger said...

L-ing OUT LOUD. Thanks for the commentary and chuckle, Thomas.

It's possible to construe McGraw's strategy as a flagrant dodging of the finger of blame.

I suppose people should learn about money, yes. But here's another idea: Make the instruments of money more clear and understandable to anyone.